Enhanced CEFR Descriptions

Emmersion’s Research & Development team has worked to complete CEFR documentation that is more direct and accessible to our clients. CEFR is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and is the most broadly-used scale for employment language screening. As we help others understand how they can make better use of the CEFR standards to establish hiring thresholds, the attached Emmersion Ability Description Chart should be more helpful than sending them to primary source documents. The document will also inform future feature development that provides administrators and test takers with more useful detail about their CEFR level. 

CEFR Descriptors Can Overwhelm and Confuse 

One of the reasons why CEFR is widely used is because it is a framework without a strict controlling body. This means it can be adapted without limitation. The CEFR language standards were born out of the spirit of cooperation and the need for shared understanding that came with the European Union’s formation. The effort towards creating shared standards that describe and convey a person’s ability to perform in any language was noble and its impact is impressive. 

However, with a lack of control inherent in collaborative efforts, CEFR descriptions are somewhat a wild jungle rather than a carefully tended garden. One reason the implementation of CEFR standards varies so greatly is because the documentation that presents the standards is overwhelming. Anyone who tries to dive deeper than the headlines of A1 - C2 is going to be inundated by detail and inconsistency in description that discourages, distracts and ultimately misleads. 

A Resource Customized for Emmersion Clients

Many who need to understand and use CEFR standards are 1) not language teaching/assessment professionals and 2) likely non-native English users. As a result, navigating the CEFR jungle presents some real threats. It was in considering these threats that Emmersion attempted to tame the CEFR beast. We first applied filters to narrow the focus to only those descriptors that experience suggests are most relevant to determining if an individual has the verbal skill necessary for contact center work. The effect of this focus was to reduce 1,832 descriptors in 93 categories to 153 descriptors in 17 categories. The full text was reduced from 32,730 words to just under 5,000 words. 

Concise and Readable Descriptors

The second adaptation was an effort to make the language of the descriptors more accessible to non-language professionals and non-native English language users. This was done objectively by word frequency. The language of each descriptor was input several times through a lexical analysis tool that identified which vocabulary band (K) each word in a descriptor belongs to. It is generally expected that anything over the 3K band is more technical (or field specific) than may be reasonable for even a proficient user of the language. Words above the 3K band were modified or removed. Words above the 2K band were carefully considered before being kept. 

Almost 5% of the original CEFR descriptors were words above the 3K band with nearly 1% considered ‘off-list’; 12% of the words were in the 3K band. Following our efforts to make the descriptors more accessible, there remain no words above the ‘3K band’ or ‘off-list’. Only 5% of the words remaining are from the 3K band and 95% of the words are in the 1K and 2K band. 

The descriptors are divided into two categories. One set addresses features of language quality for each CEFR level. The second set presents descriptions of language skill for each level as they apply to different situations and tasks most relevant to contact center work. In addition to the 6 primary ability groups (A1,A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), official CEFR guidelines address 3 transition groups (A2-B1, B1-B2, and B2-C1). The attached Emmersion Ability Description Chart includes descriptors for these groups as well.